Below is the text by Bill Gray, originally read in worship on Sunday, October 11, 2015.
In our Stewardship Moment last Sunday, Susan Rucker reminded us of the changes we face as a congregation as our pastor prepares to retire. That started me thinking about the changes Deb and I have seen since we walked down the center aisle to join this fellowship almost 39 years ago. Back then we were new to Richmond and giddy with the news that our first child was on the way. Then we became parents working to raise a son and a daughter. That role continued to change as our children have grown and matured. As our own parents aged, we also focused again on being their children. Along the way we became grandparents, helping to nurture another generation.
Central at each stage have been this place and the people in it. This was our sanctuary; and they were our advisors, our role models, our companions. That is not to say the place or the people are unchanged. In our time here, for example, the chapel house and the youth areas have been renovated, a new music and education wing has been added, the parking area has expanded, and the fellowship hall has been painted purple. Members and staff have come and gone. But still this place and this congregation remain River Road Church.
Over the years River Road Church has ministered to us in myriad ways. Not just the people formally designated as “minister” in the bulletin, but also many of you sitting here today – along with countless others — have helped us explore our faith and increase our knowledge of God through Sunday School, organized worship, and mission activities. You have nurtured us and our children and grandchildren. You have welcomed our parents, made their last years joyful, and comforted us in their loss. In sum, you have been to us the ministers that the Scriptures say all Christians should be to each other and the world. I hope at times we have been able to be ministers to some of you as well.
We are coming to an interim time, when we will have no one formally designated as pastor to lead us; but we will continue to have a dedicated and talented group of ministerial associates and a deep reservoir of talent and commitment in the congregation. As we continue our individual, personal ministries, we will need to focus on two goals: maintaining and advancing River Road the place and River Road the congregation who worship here. We must underwrite a budget that will enable us to maintain the physical plant and fund current staff and activities. But we also must remain personally involved with each other and to branch out further from this corner. So on Commitment Sunday two weeks from now, please make a financial pledge. And every week please pay attention to the announcements and to our print and electronic publications for news of ways to contribute your time and energy. It may be a call from the Nominating Committee or an appeal for CARITAS volunteers, tellers or bus drivers; or it may be something much less direct, like news of a birth, marriage, illness, or death. All are calls for us to be ministers – to be God’s representatives here and now.
I often marvel at the vision and foresight of our founders, who designed this entire three-building complex before there was anything more than a fireplace on this property. Early on, they saw the need for an endowment to provide for unanticipated expenses and to support new activities not included in the regular operating budget. In recent years we have had to appeal to the endowment to support day-to-day operations, redirecting funds that could have gone for new programs and ideas. So to move forward, we need to subscribe the operating budget fully, leaving endowment grants available for expansion of our ministry.
I’m sure you have been reading and hearing about the major pledge our endowment fund recently made to support new missions projects. Similar funding is available for other innovative ideas if we can underwrite current operations, so we have a unique opportunity to move River Road forward. Won’t it be wonderful if, when the work of the search committee is done, we can welcome our new pastor to this marvelous facility and to a congregation that still minister to each other, that reach out to their community in new and innovative ways, and that welcome new leadership to take us even further? We can – and that process begins Commitment Sunday.